Friday, April 06, 2012

The Invention of Glass, Emmanuel Hocquard (trans. Cole Swensen and Rod Smith

How to see this pink
cloth? It’s right. Prisoner
of his perspective
the commander missed
everything. Ancient walls
become paths.
Affirming and negating
can be equally energizing.
Why these forms?
Direction north. “Every day
he climbed the difficult trail.”
(Anna Brener.) The parentheses
create a blind spot in the
sentence. The blue line
of a bridge and the blue line
of a kingfisher: the distance
between the blues. Close
the quotation marks. (“Poem”)
It was only a couple of years ago that I originally encountered the work of French writer Emmanuel Hocquard, the first name that struck in an anthology of French writing in translation, edited by Norma Cole, Crosscut Universe: Writing on Writing from France (Burning Deck, 2000). Since then, it seems, I’ve been seeing his name everywhere, including in the new single-author volume, The Invention of Glass (Canarium Books, 2012), translated from the French by Cole Swensen and Rod Smith. Said to be one of France’s leading poets, the back cover of Hocquard’s The Invention of Glass (originally published in 2003 as L’Invention du verre) reads: “This is a narrative that tries to explain and to crystalize (the fourth state of water) a situation that has not yet been clarified. Under the guise of memory’s particular logic, its play of facets turns to fiction because its sense takes shape only as the series of grammatical phrases unfolds, fusing shadows and blind spots. And yet, like glass, which is a liquid, the poem is amorphous. It streams off in all directions, but reflects nothing. What is the meaning of blue? No one needs to interrogate the concept of blue to know what it means.” The book is structured into two sections, the long poem “Poem” and the prose-section “Novel” (as well as “Notes” and the end), with both sections not entirely limited to those artificial labels, and, as the back cover suggests, working through the binaries of “narrative” and “poem,” twisting and turning both.

P. 32. Time Pocket was made in 1968 by Dennis Oppenheim. The line cut by the snowmobile into the surface of the frozen lake traced the time zone that runs between the United States and Canada. “This ‘time pocket’ also evokes the ‘fold’ of time which runs into the pocket, which is itself no more than an interstitial void between two hours (3:30 in the United States; 4:30 in Canada)—exactly the interval of the Aristotelian instant. This representation of the instant as time’s internal limit across a fiction manifests one of the possible accounts of time, articulated around a system of international conventions. Time in this case truly is the number of motion. (“Story”)
Throughout the first section, the twenty-part stretch of “Poem,” the linearity and smoky quality of his lines manage to cohere into a solid, while still shifting. I’m struck by the evocative abstract of his writing, the way his texts articulate both language and process, writing the details into universals. For Hocquard, it seems, it’s the flux that matters, the process of shifting, of never remaining the fixed point. For a number of writers, book-length works are just as much explorations of form as anything else, whether George Bowering, bpNichol, Lisa Robertson or nathanaël, and Hocquard very much adheres to the same qualities of searching through writing, although I find it is in his short prose bursts (the “prose-poem”) where he shines best. From what I’ve seen, this might be his finest thinking form. I am fascinated by his sentences, and in the structures and resonances that his prose-pieces evoke.
The subject reconstructs itself

P. 75. “Even a proposition such as: ‘I currently live in England’ has two aspects: it is not erroneous, but on the other hand: what do I know about England? Might my judgement not be completely confused?

Might it not be possible that these people, entering this room, tell me exactly the opposite, even showing me ‘proof’ so that suddenly I find myself there, a madman alone in the middle of normal people, or a normal person in the middle of the mad? Couldn’t doubts come to assail me precisely about that which, for me at that moment, is the most incontestable? (“Story”)

Still, I have yet to read enough of his larger oeuvre to comprehend a larger sense of it, something I hope to correct over the coming months. Given his publication history in translation is vast and scattered, there is much to learn.

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